SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Carnaval returns to San Francisco for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The two-day event attracts thousands to the Mission District for a festival and a colorful parade.
In 2019, among the samba dancers, drummers and school bands, a group of women also marched and danced to the beat.
It was the first time these women took part in the parade.
They belonged to La Colectiva de Mujeres, the Women's Collective, a group that educates domestic workers about their labor rights.
It was a sort of coming out party for the women, who are often seen as invisible in the labor force.
One in six domestic workers worldwide is a migrant. Many work without adequate pay and can suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
When the pandemic hit, these working women felt the impact directly.
Many lost their jobs as governments ordered a shelter-in-place. Then when some were able to return to work, they were pressured to work extra hours by their employers who needed extra daycare while working remotely.
"Their employers wouldn't let them leave. They would tell them, 'You need to stay because I am still working on the computer,'" said Guillermina Castellanos, who co-founded La Colectiva.
Castellanos said many domestic workers began to feel depressed because they were neglecting their own families to care for the children of other people.
They also feared getting sick. The stress built up.
"There was definitely fear and concern. Employers were not providing equipment to protect them, such as masks, gloves and other materials. Domestic workers were then at risk for higher rates of transmission of Covid. The toll on mental health was really high," explained Andreína Maldonado.
In 2018, she had begun offering wellness classes to members of La Colectiva as part of a partnership with Dance Mission Theater.
She introduced them to yoga and restorative exercises. After pausing during the early part of the pandemic, Maldonado saw the women began showing signs of depression and increased stress, so the group started meeting again in local parks.
"We would sit in circles, we would meditate together. Simply sitting still and just breathing," said Maldonado.
They also danced. Those movements began to empower them.
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"These classes let us forget a bit about the stress we face in our work. It takes away the stress. It also makes us more secure about ourselves because we can be timid," said Teresa Palacio, who suffered wage theft until she learned got help from La Colectiva.
Castellanos said she was motivated to help establish the organization in 2001 after noticing the lack of labor rights for domestic workers when she began cleaning homes.
Doing domestic work brought back what she calls repressed memories of her childhood.
Castellanos said her mother placed her in a home of a well to do family in Mexico City when she was five-years-old. She said that family gave her cleaning chores before she left to school and then more chores when she came home.
"They would tell me I needed to be grateful that they even let me go to school and that I was learning how to properly clean a house so I could find work later. They did not pay me," she added.
Castellanos became a loud voice for domestic workers rights.
In 2008, she spoke at the International Labour Organization in Geneva about her experiences. Two years later, the United Nations agency adopted a historic document recognizing the economic importance of domestic work and urged the adoption of better working and living conditions for domestic workers.
In 2013, La Colectiva was instrumental in securing the right to overtime pay for domestic workers in California.
And last year, the group earned sick pay for the 10,000 domestic workers in San Francisco, the first such law in the nation.
They were activists but still doing domestic work.
This year, La Colectiva was hired to be the cleaning crew for Carnaval, but they will do more than that.
A group of them will again march and dance in the parade. This time they will carry colorful dusters and cloths.
"The use of props is a method to ground us. To use something that is used at work, we are translating it to make it our weapon. It's about saying, 'I am here and these are my tools," said Maldonado.
"When we dance with the dusters, we are showing that we aren't just workers. We are leaders," said María Aguilar, a member of La Colectiva.
For more information about hiring workers from La Colectiva, visit La Colectiva website.
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